J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, January 20, 2018

“Two violent blows…upon the back part of the head”

On 18 Jan 1768, John Mein of the Boston Chronicle asked Benjamin Edes of the Boston Gazette to identify “Americus,” who had attacked him in a newspaper essay. Edes refused.

On 19 January, Mein asked again, hinting that this was a matter of honor. In his own words he went to the Edes and Gill print shop “to ask them one after another to take a short Walk.” Again, Edes refused.

On 21 January, the rival Boston News-Letter published a letter about the dispute:
Mr. [Richard] Draper.

I have heard an incorrect Account of a Difference between Messrs. Edes and Mein, greatly to the disadvantage of the latter: If Mr. Mein has been guilty of an insolent Attempt to break in upon the Liberty of the Press, it is just he should be exposed, and treated with due Contempt: If he is innocent, it is cruel to Propagate such a malicious Representation of his Impudence and Affectation: If therefore by Publishing this you can influence the Parties concerned to give a true State of the Matter, you will oblige a great Number of your Readers who are anxious to know the whole of the Affair, besides your humble Servant,

Just. Pacis.
That prompted Edes to publish the lengthy description of his interaction with Mein in the 25 January Boston Gazette. I quoted Edes’s report yesterday.

A whole week had gone by since Mein’s first visit to the Edes and Gill shop. But now the private argument between printers was out for everyone to read. That appears to have galvanized Mein into action. Now that the Boston Gazette printers had denied his “short Walk” challenge (and made the whole thing public), Mein resolved “to cane the first of them I mett.”

On the evening of 26 January (and I’m getting ahead of the Sestercentennial here), Mein ran into his rival. Not Edes, the politically active member of the Loyall Nine. Rather, Mein spotted Edes’s partner and relative by marriage, John Gill. According to Isaiah Thomas, “Gill was a sound whig, but did not possess the political energy of his partner.”

Mein hit Gill with his walking stick. According to legal papers, Mein “gave the said John Gill two violent blows…upon the back part of the head.” Such a caning wasn’t just an assault; under British dueling customs, it was also a way to signal that one’s opponent had forfeited any claims to be a gentleman. However, to locals like Harbottle Dorr, Mein merely behaved “like a ruffian.”

What the News-Letter had called “a Difference between Messrs. Edes and Mein” quickly became a “Dispute…between Messieurs Gill and Mein”—and more. “Populus” in the Gazette wrote:
If we suffer the Printers to be abused, for resolutely maintaining the Freedom of the Press, without discovering our just Resentment against those who endeavour to force them from their Duty, we shall soon find the Press shut against us—For it cannot be expected that one or two Men who will be subject to the Malice of the publick Enemies, bear to be bruised, and run the Hazard of being assassinated, if the Public, whose Cause they are fighting do not zealously patronize their Cause.

The People in this Province, and this Town in particular, must for the foregoing Reasons, be justified in their general Disapprobation of, and Disgust to Mr. Mein, for his late Spaniard-like Attempt on Mr. Gill, and in him, upon the Freedom of the Press.
“Populus” then revived the initial complaint that Mein had revealed “his Enmity to this Country, by villifying her great and firm Friend, the illustrious Mr. [William] Pitt, under God and the King, the Saviour of Britain, and the Redeemer of America.” In other words, it was very important to preserve the freedom of the press, and to attack anyone who published bad things about America’s political hero.

TOMORROW: Going to court.

1 comment:

April ROWLAND said...

It is often said that "history is dull". Anyone who states that needs to dig further into it and they will discover that is completely untrue. This story has me sitting on the edge of my seat to see what happens next. Thank you for sharing it